Town moves to condemn easements for future beach work
As the first storm of the hurricane season passed offshore, the Pawleys Island Town Council agreed this week to condemn the last four easements needed to ensure that the Army Corps of Engineers will have a role in maintaining the $14.3 million beach renourishment project the town completed this spring.
“The condemnation process is our only resort at this point,” Town Attorney David DuRant said.
Last year, the town withdrew from a partnership with the Corps that would have provided federal funds to renourish the island’s south end. Town Council was concerned that a cost-benefit analysis by the agency would delay the project another year. Instead, the town used a beach fund accumulated over 20 years and state funds for the project, which placed 1.1 million cubic yards of offshore sand on about 3 miles of beach.
But after the town started work, the Corps proposed a “memorandum of understanding” that would allow the project area on the narrow south end of the island to become a federal project. That means the Corps would replace any sand lost to storms and would share half the cost of future renourishment, estimated at every nine years, for the next 45 years. The Corps would also give the town credit for the work it did initially when it calculates its match for the next renourishment.
“It is an insurance policy that to me is priceless,” Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said. “It is unquestionably in the best interest of the community.”
As a condition of its participation, the Corps requires an easement over each of the 113 beachfront lots in the project area to allow for construction and maintenance of the beach. The town got most of those before it decided to conduct its own project last year.
The owners of four lots balked.
“Every single one, there’s been a dialogue,” Fabbri said. “They don’t owe us an explanation.”
At 718 Springs Ave., owned by Earle G. Prevots, Marshall L. Bessinger, M. Donivan Bessinger and Don Bessinger of Greenville, the easement would take in a walkway and stairs.
At 746 Springs, owned by Sunset Lodge LLC, whose registered agent is Nick Franchina of Greenville, the easement includes part of a deck.
At 748 Springs, owned by Frank Beattie of Georgetown, the easement takes in a deck.
At 756 Springs, owned by Barry Stanton of Columbia, it includes a deck and stairs.
The town will get appraisals on the value of each easement. DuRant said he believes it will show that the easement adds value. That town will make a final offer to the owners. If they don’t accept within 30 days, the town will go to court to acquire the easements through eminent domain.
The property owners can challenge the value of the easement, but “there’s not any way to stop it,” DuRant said.
Property owners will still have title to the property, he added.
Mayor Brian Henry noted that the cost of repairing and maintaining the renourished beach has been a concern since the town decided to take on the project itself. A committee formed last year to look at ways to raise additional revenue for beach maintenance ended up deadlocked and failed to make any recommendations to the council.
“It’s a significant opportunity to provide some long-term security,” Henry said of the Corps partnership. “It’s almost a no-brainer.”
Council Member Rocky Holliday, who led the town’s beach committee in developing the project, said the condemnation “could easily be misunderstood.” It is the first time the town has used the power of eminent domain since it was formed in 1985.
Council Member Sarah Zimmerman asked whether the easement was only for construction and maintenance. DuRant said it was.
“It’s not a taking,” he said. “Who wants to go to a beach house that doesn’t have any sand in front of it?”
“They’re holding the other 109 hostage,” Council Member Ashley Carter said of the four sets of owners. “I can’t understand it, personally.”